back to new archives for 15-17 June 2000
The Age [Australia]
4,000 jobs lost since Fiji coup
Source: NZPA | Published: Saturday June 17, 5:18 AM

SUVA- Job cuts since George Speight's civilian coup have topped 4000, Fiji's Labour Ministry says.
A ministry survey of 435 employers in the past four weeks found that 4122 workers had lost their jobs. Other staff had wages cut and hours reduced.

Industries hardest hit by the nation's political crisis were tourism, manufacturing and garment factories, but small retail outlets were also suffering.

Speight's May 19 coup, in which he and a band of armed gunmen took 31 MPs and Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry hostage, is crippling the economy.

There have been estimates it will cost Fiji $F1 billion ($A836.45 million).

Fiji's military council is already preparing a mini-budget for the five months from August, with authorities predicting slashed spending as government revenues plummet by $F200 million.

The Commonwealth is to consider at a meeting in September whether economic sanctions, that could cost more jobs, should be imposed on Fiji.

A Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was told by some groups yesterday that sanctions should be put in place to ensure a return to proper democracy in Fiji.

However, it does not appear the Commonwealth will take any punitive action until Speight's 31 hostages are released.

Fiji's military rulers told Commonwealth leaders it might be two years before a constitution is in place, and free elections held.

Talks of a two-year timeframe, revealed by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, indicated the Commonwealth might accept the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Chaudhry, an Indian-Fijian.

The Commonwealth delegation, which included Foreign Minister Phil Goff, has described Chaudhry's Government as the only proper authority in Fiji.

However, it has become clear the military rulers led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who declared martial law last month, are also recognised by the Commonwealth.

Goff said the meeting with the military had been positive.

"Our understanding is that there will be a return shortly to an interim civilian government," he said.

"My personal response to that is we understand that that might be a step back to democracy.

"But there is currently a legitimate government and that government, from a New Zealand perspective, is the government that should continue to exercise authority."

Bainimarama today told the CMAG delegation once hostages were released, it would take 24 months for elections to be held.

The military intended naming a civilian government that would draw up a constitution and call elections.

Technical problems outlined by the Electoral Commission meant it would take 18 months for an election to be organised.

The position of the Commonwealth towards restoration of Chaudhry and his Labour-led coalition government has been difficult to pin down.

However, while both Downer and Goff have said a return of the elected government is the preferred option, they have also said the Commonwealth's aim is to ensure Fiji pursues a path to democracy, and a fair and just constitution.

Bainimarama's plans for a new constitution and new elections might meet Commonwealth ideals, provided the constitution is not race-based by giving paramountcy to indigenous Fijians, as demanded by Speight.

CMAG will report to the Commonwealth in London. Already the Commonwealth has suspended Fiji from its councils.

Meanwhile, the military yesterday held their first talks with Speight's group in more than a week.

Details of the meeting, with self-styled deputy prime minister Timoci Silatolu and military representatives were not available. CMAG did not meet Silatolu, Goff said.

Silatolu and another Speight lawyer, Tevita Bukurau, were taken by army vehicle from Parliament House, where the hostages are being held, to the military barracks shortly before the CMAG delegation arrived.

They left soon after the CMAG meeting ended. It could not be determined who Ratu Timoci and Bukurau met.


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last revision June 18, 2000